by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
Drones have become the weapon of choice for the US because no American casualties are involved. If innocents are killed, that is just “collateral damage”.
The US is not at war with Pakistan; at least that is what it claims officially. In fact, the US presents Pakistan as an ally in its unending war on terror. Yet US policy, especially as it relates to drone strikes is anything but friendly. US drone strikes are acts of war against innocent people in Pakistan of whom thousands have been killed since the murderous campaign was launched in 2004. Most of the strikes have been carried out in the tribal region of North Waziristan.
A new report released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on October 22 once again highlighted US drone strikes in what they said could constitute war crimes. This came on the heels of a UN report released four days earlier that arrived at a similar conclusion. In September 2012, a study by Stanford and New York Universities’ law schools, based on interviews with victims’ families and eyewitnesses challenged the US narrative of “surgical strikes.” The report entitled “Living Under Drones” revealed that families were afraid to attend weddings or funerals because they would be targeted.
This has led to great resentment among the people of Pakistan at all strata of society. The government has denounced these as impinging on Pakistan’s “sovereignty.” For the people it is their lives that are under attack. The issue of drone strikes was also raised by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he met US President Barack Obama in the White House on October 23. A day earlier, while speaking at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, Sharif said drone strikes violated international law and the “territorial integrity” of Pakistan hurting bilateral relations. “I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks,” the Pakistani premier said a day before meeting Obama.
The American president gave no hint that he would even consider such a request. Instead, the US media was unleashed saying Pakistani officials publicly say they oppose such strikes but in private, they have given the US permission to continue. Similarly, when the Amnesty/Human Rights Watch report was released, television anchors in Pakistan raised a din saying the timing of the report was “suspicious.” They asked why it was released on the eve of Sharif’s meeting with Obama. Such questions are beneath contempt as are most Pakistani anchors. Almost without exception, they are on the US payroll or even India and Israel. According to WikiLeaks, Pakistani journalists can be purchased for a mere invitation to the US embassy, as per its cables from Islamabad to the State Department in Washington, DC. When American officials have such a low opinion of Pakistani “journalists,” why do they continue to serve US interests?
The more pertinent question to ask would have been, why does the US continue its drone strikes despite repeated Pakistani requests? Even the issue of Pakistani “permission” for such strikes has been misrepresented. During the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan agreed to allow the US to carry out drone strikes against a specific list of named targets. These were all identified as al-Qaeda operatives. When these targets were eliminated, the US added more names to the list. When Asif Ali Zardari became the president in 2008, he gave the US a free rein. That venal character was concerned only about one thing: to be allowed to stay in power. He did not care what happened to the people. WikiLeaks cables inform us that he told American officials he did not care about Pakistani civilian deaths in drone strikes!
The situation, however, has changed in the last year or so. There has been a perceptible shift in Pakistani thinking both at the official as well as public levels. Drone strikes are not only illegal under international law they are also increasing resentment against the US. It may well be that that is precisely what the US wants. With increased resentment, people are likely to act irrationally by carrying out car or suicide bombings thereby providing the US the pretext to project Pakistan as “unstable.” There is a body of opinion that holds the view that America’s ultimate aim is to declare Pakistan a “failed state” and thus get its nuclear assets removed. This is not too far fetched. The US, the West and Zionist Israel as well as Hindu India all want to divest Pakistan of its nuclear weapons. Everyone can have the bomb but Muslims because they are “irrational” and “fanatical.” In the process, the US is prepared to kill as many innocent civilians as necessary in its campaign to destabilize Pakistan.
The bigger question on everyone’s mind is, why doesn’t the Pakistani government take steps to prevent its sovereignty from being violated with such impunity? It could order its military to take action to protect the country’s territorial integrity. The Pakistan air force has the capability to shoot down drones. This was openly stated by a Pakistani air force officer. If so, the Pakistani government’s inaction in the face of repeated violations of its sovereignty is troubling. While it could be argued that it is not prudent to spoil relations with the US but it is not Pakistan that is the aggressor here; the US is.
The real tragedy is that Pakistani rulers lack moral and political courage. Their overriding concern is to stay in power regardless of what happens to the country or its people. The US gets away with murdering Pakistani civilians because Islamabad also does not care.